Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Tornado Damage and Public Funds!

Thursday, May 30th, 2013
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


In spite of all the turmoil and tragedy visited on the little town of Moore, Oklahoma last week, one fact stands out:  Every family with a storm cellar survived.  No one who went to underground protection was killed or even injured. For the rest who tried to find protection above ground, it was a crapshoot.  So why isn’t it mandatory that all structures in tornado prone areas, especially schools and other public buildings, have storm shelters?

Moore is in the part of the country that is known as Tornado Alley and City planners, know well that “below – ground shelters are the best protection against tornadoes.”  Yet there is no specific building code that requires them.  On the City of Moore web site, the recommendations are quite clear in stating “every residence should have a storm safe room or underground cellar.” 

Tornadoes are nothing new in this part of the country.  In the Moore area alone, four major tornados have hit since 1998.  In 201l, a major tornado swept through southern Missouri and Oklahoma causing some two billion dollars in damages.  In fact, some 22 tornadoes have struck in or near Moore, killing more than 100 people since the town was incorporated in1893, according to the National Weather Service.

So why are storm shelters not required where tornadoes are so prevalent?  One reason is cost.  A basic shelter can run several thousand dollars.  And a good number of poorer citizens live throughout this area.  There are federal programs that offer rebates for storm cellar construction, but the dollars are limited.  Yet spending  $2000 to save one’s life seems like a no brainer.  But there are also political considerations.

Several Oklahoma legislators have introduced bills requiring so-called “safe rooms’ built with reinforced concrete, or better yet, underground shelters.  But they haven’t had much success.  “This is a red state,” said State Representative Richard Morissette of Oklahoma City. “People don’t like anything that is mandated. You don’t like it when the government says they have to do something.”

And most would agree.  That is, as long as the rest of us are not affected.  But as we speak, Oklahoma members of congress are adding up the damage and preparing to ask taxpayers to pony up for all the costs.  Initial estimates have soared past the $2 billon mark and are rising daily.  There will be a good bit of insurance coverage, but we can still count on significant federal dollars to be asked for and paid by – you and me.

The question then becomes one of whether it’s reasonable that a community or state meet certain construction standards in order to be eligible for federal funds.  Without some reasonable mandates, do we stand by and let areas of the country prone to weather related damage come to congress time and time again without them taking measures to mitigate
the damage that they know, sooner or later, is inevitable?  This is an issue that many areas of the country face, including the entire Gulf Coast and particularly my home state of Louisiana.

In years past, many Gulf Coast residents passed on flood insurance, did not consider building code requirements, and waited for FEMA dollars to help rebuild their homes or businesses. Back in the 90s when I served as Louisiana’s insurance commissioner, I had a fellow stop me one day and ask about my projections for the coming hurricane season. “I hope we get one down here this year,” he told me. “We sure could use some of that federal money to fix up my fishin’ camp.”

That was the attitude along the Louisiana coast, in Moore, Oklahoma, and up along the New Jersey shore.  That’s what the federal government does. Fix things up because that’s how the system works.  But the rules, for good reason, have changed. In Louisiana and other hurricane prone states, new building codes have been put in place. There are requirements that if you live along heavily flooded areas, you are required to build your home high off the ground.

And if you don’t, there are consequences.  You will not be eligible for federal flood insurance.  There is no private insurance to cover water damage from floods.
A homeowner’s only option is to buy federal flood insurance.  And quite frankly, if you live in a flood prone area down in this part of the country, you’re crazy if you don’t.  Many lenders will refuse to makes loans on a property that doesn’t carry flood insurance and that has failed to adhere to recent stronger building codes.  And many insurance companies still require inspections to be sure they property has followed all these new requirements.

These new requirements are reasonable and just.  It would not be fair for the rest of the country to continually pick up the cost of rebuilding weather damaged areas, if people living in those areas are not willing to reinforce and mitigate so as to limit future damages as much as possible.  So if such requirements are reasonable along the Gulf Coast, then aren’t similar rules and codes totally justifiable in Tornado Alley?

The property owner is free to choose.  Ignore such mandates if you will.  Don’t let the government tell you what to do with your property, but then don’t ask the government for a federal handout if your property is damaged.  If you want taxpayers all over America to lend a hand, you have to do your part and follow the rules.

In the Wizard of Oz released Seventy-four years ago, Auntie Em and Uncle Henry knew that when an Oklahoma tornado is coming your way, you head for the storm cellar.  Dorothy didn’t make it.  Neither did many of those who had no storm shelter to seek out in Tornado Alley.

“And suddenly a great wind came from beyond the desert construct the four corners of the house, so that it fell upon the young people and they died; and I alone had escaped to relate these things to you.”    Job 1:19

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Wild Louisiana U.S. Senate Race in 2014.

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Two seasoned political pros, who have lost a bit of their luster, may make the same big grab for political limelight in Washington. And what would be a surprise to many, they just might be racing against each other.  Incumbent Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, the state’s longest serving statewide elected official is hoping to extend her career in Washington for another six years.  And Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who has lost a good bit of his traction on the national scene and is looking for a place to land, may be taking a close look at challenging Landrieu next year.
The Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, headed by Ohio Senator Rob Portman, has profiled Landrieu as the most vulnerable Democrat up for re election in 2014.  Control of the U.S. senate is at stake and the numbers bode well for Republicans.  Of the 35 senate seats to be decided next year, 21 are presently held by Democrats.  Six Democrats have announced their retirement, including long serving veterans like Montana Senator Max Baucus, Michigan’s Carl Levin and Iowa’s Tom Harkin.  So the Republicans see an opening that could allow them to take over the senate leadership.
Polls show Obamacare is losing support, giving Republicans a strong position against Democrats, and the issue seems to have legs.  And history is on the side of Republicans.  At no time has a sitting president’s party gained senate seats. In fact, in more recent elections, Democratic losses have averaged six seats.  So the GOP, with some justification, feels buoyant over their chances to regain control.  Landrieu’s defeat is a key to the Republican effort, and one can expect that major out-of-state dollars will be abundant in supporting her Republican opponent.
 Right now, that main Republican challenger is Congressman Bill Cassidy, who represents a south central district centered round the state capitol in Baton Rouge.  Cassidy is a medical doctor and well respected as a liver specialist who created free dental and health care clinics for the working uninsured.  This, plus the fact that his wife, Laura, is also a doctor, engenders a great deal of family respect throughout the state. Interestingly, of the six congressmen who presently represent Louisiana in Washington, three are medical doctors.  The bottom line is, that on paper, Cassidy will give Landrieu a real run for the money if the race comes down to the two of them.
 Landrieu certainly has her share of problems.  Try as she may to play the role of a Louisiana caring moderate, she won’t be able to shake the Obama tie at a time when the President is now under siege and is likely to be so right up to the senatorial election.  Louisiana’s other Senator, Republican David Vitter, easily beat a democratic Congressman two years ago by simply continuing to hammer home the fact that the President and the congressman were both Democrats.  Landrieu will carry the same albatross in a state that overwhelming went Republican in this past presidential election.
Landrieu is under criticism at home for rarely returning to Louisiana, choosing to spend most weekends in her multi-million Washington, D.C. home.  And some party loyalists wonder how loyal a Democrat she really is.  Landrieu is under criticism by her own party for passing over qualified Democrats for a number of federal appointments.  Her pick for a recent opening on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals was an obscure non-democratic assistant prosecutor who rarely votes in local elections and who has repeatedly given Republican Senator David Vitter campaign contributions.  Her selection for a new U.S. Attorney in New Orleans also is not a democrat.  Party officials, for obvious reasons, are puzzled by her bizarre choices.
So can Governor Bobby Jindal still be a part of the senate campaign scenario?  Some observers think the Jindal team has become frustrated over Jindal’s lack of traction on the national stage.  Simply put, he has lost his home field advantage.  While the Governor crisscrosses the nation in pursuit of respect on the national stage, problems continue to mount at home.  His popularity in Louisiana has plummeted into the mid-thirties, lower than any Bayou State governor in memory.  The courts have been particularly unkind, declaring many of the Governor’s pet education and finance reforms unconstitutional, and he has been raked over the coals in the business community for a back door effort to significantly raise the state sales tax that presently is ranked as one of the highest in the country.
Recently, Jindal is staying closer to home in an effort to stem a legislative revolt.  In the meantime, he has neglected opportunities to gain favor with big Republican dollar givers throughout the country.  Just last week, at the last minute, he cancelled a speech to the Manhattan Institute, a group of major national campaign contributors who play a major role in early campaign giving.  Reports from the meeting were that donors were livid over Jindal being a no show.  He offered to send his education secretary John White, and that caused even more consternation.
So what’s a pouting Governor to do?  Consider the options.  Since he is term limited in the next governor’s race, and losing steam on the national scene, Landrieu and the Senate race just might be ripe for the picking.  Jindal’s political alter ego, a fellow named Timmy Teeple, abruptly departed the Cassidy for Senate team recently, and is looking for a place to land.  Trying to elect his old boss may be an attractive alternative.
Surprisingly, Landrieu would much prefer a Jindal race rather than being hounded by Cassidy.  All of Jindal’s warts have been in public view for a good while, and Landrieu feels she has plenty of ammo to paint Jindal as another failed incumbent.  So instead of running from Cassidy, she can run a campaign directly against Jindal.  In other words, hold your nose and vote for the lesser of the two evils.  And the question remains as to whether Cassidy will step aside or stand toe to toe and challenge Jindal for the run -off spot.
Stay tuned!  Far from being a two party, two horse race, this campaign has a long way to go to the finish line.  And because of the national implications, it will be closely observed all across the country.
 A mob is coming here in six months to hang the other ninety-five of you damned scoundrels, and I’m undecided whether to stick here with you or go out and lead them.”
— Huey Long, U.S. Senate floor speech
 Peace and Justice.
 Jim Brown
 Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Constitutional Freedoms Under Attack!

Thursday, May 16th, 2013
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


In the past week, the Washington establishment is in crisis mode over a series of revelations of government intrusions that would seem to go way over the line of what is constitutionally legal.  First, the Internal Revenue Service admitted it had targeted Tea Party groups for priority audits.  Then came another bombshell disclosure. The Justice Department had secretly seized and monitored phone records from the Associated Press, which is a direct threat to a news organization’s constitutional right to gather and report the news.

Is this a new chapter in the country moving toward a “Brave New World?”  Hardly.  This type of undermining of one’s constitutional rights has been going on for years.  The press turned its back on gross attacks on our individual freedoms as the Patriot Act “legalized” a litany of personal and private invasions that our constitution was intended to prevent.

The difference is that now, the abuse is hitting close to home.  “The audacity of invading the freedoms of the press and political groups like the Tea Party!” many cry out. But where were the voices of such concern during a whole rash of such individual privacy invasions during the Bush and, now, the Obama Administration?  Both Democrats and Republicans, who now express outrage, stood by and allowed the Patriot Act to sweep individual protections under the rug. 

In an interview with CNN this past week, former FBI counterterrorism agent Tim Clemente said that the FBI could listen to phone conversations between anybody they wanted.  “Welcome to America,” he said. “All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not.”

The Guardian’s columnist Glenn Greenwald took it a step further by concluding that all digital communications are recorded and stored by the government, saying: “This revelation on CNN, that every single telephone call made by and among Americans is recorded and stored is something which most people undoubtedly do not know, even if a small group of people who focus on surveillance issues believe it to be true.”  Now I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but this is a damning indictment of Big Brother at its worst, illegally invading the privacy of every American.

But is the daily illegal monitoring of the phone calls made by millions of Americans a startling revelation that has just been revealed?  Members of congress apparently think so as many are calling for special prosecutors to investigate.  But have these same outraged voices been stuck in a cave over the past few years?  In 2010, The Washington Post made the startling revelation that:  “Every day, collection systems of the national security agency intercepts and stores one 1.7 billion emails, phone calls and other types of communications.”
All these unconstitutional invasions of private individuals add up.  Former National Security Agency official William Binney, who resigned in protest recently over the widespread spying by his former agency on the communications of US citizens, said that the federal government “has assembled on the order of 20 trillion transactions about US citizens with other US citizens, and that the data that is being assembled is about everybody. And from that data, then they can target anyone they want.”

Is the Obama Administration’s use of the IRS for political purposes unique?  Hardly. In his book, A Law Unto Itself: the IRS and Abuse of Power, author David Burnham describes how presidents going all the way back to Herbert Hoover have misused the Internal Revenue Service for personal vendettas.  Franklin Roosevelt used the IRS to go after a former Senator in my state, Huey Long.  John Kennedy authorized IRS investigations into the John Birch Society. And who can forgot Richard Nixon’s “enemies list?”

Here's the bottom line. Political organizations like the Tea Party, and media outlets like the Associated Press, have become outraged as they have become targeted by an out-of-control Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service. But when the average individual receives similar mistreatment, as we have witnessed time and time again over the past 12 years, virtually nothing is said about it. The Patriot Act floated through Congress with only a few protests. Then the abuse began.

So when your congressman or senator starts calling for special prosecutors to investigate the abuses by the Justice Department and the IRS, ask them why they did not stand up in defense of each American citizen and demand protection from invasion of those enumerated individual rights found in the Constitution?  We are all glad these members of congress are jumping to the defense of the Tea Party and the Associated Press. But what about all of us little guys?

For good reason, there are calls of a tyrannical federal government that intimidates its citizens and puts a chill over freedom of speech.  But all this undermining of basic freedoms did not just begin recently.  Unfortunately, it is part of the darker side of American history.  When the Patriot Act was passed into law back in 2001, the intimidation and spying increased ten fold.  And these very members of congress, who are protesting so loudly now, stood by silently and did nothing.

If this Washington crowd wants to see the real threat to American democracy, they should just take a long, hard look into the mirror.  It was Pogo who said it best.  “We have seen the enemy, and the enemy is us.”


Get up, stand up, Stand up for your rights. Get up, stand up, Don't give up the fight.
                                                                   Bob Marley
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Growing Older With Style!

Thursday, May 8th, 2013
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

I woke up earlier this week, followed my normal routine of walking the dogs, picking up the morning papers, pouring my large glass of orange juice half filled with water to dilute the sugar, checked my emails, walked out on the patio to glance over the news … and then it dawned on me – I’ve turned 73.
Seventy-three?  How did that happen? Not too long ago, I would have said that 73 is really old.  And to many, I suppose it is.  I don’t think I look 73.  Oh, I do look in the mirror from time to time, and see reflections of my father.  I remember him well in his 70s.  He had suffered his first heart attack by then, and though he did not look real old, still, he had aged a good bit.  I look away and from the mirror, and he is a vision of a much younger man.  But when I look, back, there he is.  When you glance into a mirror, who knows when you will meet a past you hadn’t expected and may be not ready for.  I guess one can say that about the future as well.  Look into the mirror and tell me what you see… right?
How do I feel?  My doctor, whose first name is “Bubba” (you check out closely a doctor named “Bubba”) says I look a heck of a lot better on the outside than I do on the inside.  I have my share of aches and pains.  A knee that needs a partial replacement, some recurring arthritis, too much hay fever and a sore back.  But hey, I had all that 20 years ago.  So I guess I’m doin’ OK.
A cute story to share about my age -- I’m getting a smoothie some months ago, and the cashier asks my name to put on the ticket.  I said “Jim Brown.”  The counter girl, all of 17 with a number of piercings and purple streaked hair, prepares my smoothie and calls out “Jim.”  She’s a bit young, at least from my perspective, to call a guy my age “Jim.”  So I ask her how old she thinks I am.  Then I sweeten the question.  I tell her if she comes within five years of my age, I’ll give her a five-dollar tip.  Remember the smoothie is only $3.50, so I’m making it worth her while to guess right.  Of course she wants the large tip.  She looks closely, squints her eyes, studies my face, and, after a rather long pause, she announces:  “You’re fifty two!” Without blinking an eye, I pulled out a five-dollar bill and gave it to her.  “You win,” I said.  Actually, I’m he winner if she reflects anything close to a younger prevailing view.
I still listen to the 50s music on the radio and remember, well, dancing in high school to Jerry Lee Lewis -- Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.  In the 60s, I was a Ferriday lawyer representing the likes of Jerry Lee and his cousin Jimmy Swaggart.  Three daughters and country living dominated the 70s, and politics took over my life in the 80s and 90s.  The Feds were an irritant in the early new century, but I survived and have branched out in a number of new directions.  Our visit each week through this column and on the radio is one more reflection of living life to the fullest.  Four grandchildren in the past decade is the icing on the cake.
Tolstoy, in boyhood, wrote: “I am convinced that if I should ever live to a ripe old age and my story keeps pace with my age, I shall daydream just as boyishly and impractically as an old man of 70 as I do now.”  I once thought I daydreamed too much.  But isn’t that what creative people do?  Painters, musicians, poets, actors are all full of aspirations and dreams, many out of reach.
I’ve tried to flush out an occasional creative vibe. Painting with a granddaughter, who, at eleven years old, is much better than me. Refreshing my banjo skills. Would you believe that in my twenties, I helped pay my way through law school by strumin’ the banjo at Your Father’s Mustache on Bourbon Street in New Orleans? Even a stint as an actor in the Three Penny Opera and The Fantasticks at several local theatres in the French Quarter. It took a while, but I finally figured out that I shouldn’t worry about being all that skilled at many things. It was better to delight in the pursuit, and find clarity by enjoying the undertaking itself, regardless of my limited talent.
Yes, seventy-three is a milestone.  But I won’t consider myself old -- just a bit older.  Ninety is probably old, but I have many years of lively living before I have to consider that next line in the sand.  In the meantime, I will continue to be the happy go lucky, meddling, opinionated, bullheaded, talkaholic, health conscious, lovable (from my perspective) fellow that I have always been.  I won’t hesitate to give plenty of advice to my children.  They may be middle aged, but they are still my kids, and even though they think they don’t need my advice, I know they really do.
Grandchildren are a bit different.  My oldest has learned that by the strategic use of smiles, sighs, pleadings, persistence and kisses, that a firm “no” is quickly turned into a “yes.”  And I am awfully good at hide and seek, playing “Marco-Polo in the swimming pool, telling animal and ghost stories at bedtime, teaching shoe tying 101, patching up boo boos, and other similar adolescent attributes.
So why make a big deal of being 73? I mean, it’s just a number isn’t it?  Like a bunch of other numbers in your life.  Dates, addresses, sums, amounts, and then, in the mix, is age.  But maybe it’s more than that.  I can make a case that it could be an important milestone.  My seventy-three years, by any measures, have been full and hard living, with ups and downs too numerous to mention.  If there is a yin and a yang, the before and the after, what has happened, and what is yet to be, then maybe seventy-three is a special waypost for me.  Hey, I could be at the top and ready for the long and relaxing ride back down.
As for the rest of all you youngsters below the age of seventy-three, I have just this one thought.  It’s nice to be on this side of troubled waters.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should brunt and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.   
Dylan Thomas
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at